Millions of immigrants who came to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries glimpsed Lady Liberty from their ships and knew they had arrived: They were in America, a land where a man could succeed with his wits, and did not have to stay stuck in the social caste that he was born into.
The Statue of Liberty represented the travels and triumphs of the common man -- even its creation is evocative of that. Although the statue itself was designed and financed by the French as a gift to the United States a century after its independence, the pedestal had to be financed by the U.S. The project almost went uncompleted, until Joseph Pulitzer -- the publisher of the New York World -- began to raise money for it. He reportedly received more than 120,000 donations toward the construction of the pedestal -- most of the contributors gave less than a dollar.
Ultimately, it was the common man -- the essential American -- who financed the construction of the pedestal.
These days, the Statue of Liberty is often viewed as one of the many tourist attractions available in New York City, instead of a national symbol.
To be honest, as a New Yorker I just view the statue as a tourist trap and any symbolic reverence it once held is lost on me, Rachel Sierzputowski, a recent college graduate who was born and raised in the city, told the IBTimes.
Kelley Martin, who relocated to New York after growing up in Iowa, said the statue reminded her of her great-grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Italy.
To me, it's just a monument. But I think, to them, it was really symbolic of a new life, she said.
Martin is not alone in thinking of the Statue of Liberty as a relic of the past. In fact, its majestic history -- compared with the reality of life in the U.S. today -- has even been turned into a punch line.
The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying, 'Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.' She's got a baseball bat and yelling, 'You want a piece of me?', the comedian Robin Williams famously joked.
Whether or not that is the case is for every American to decide for him or herself. Certainly some of the issues facing the nation -- such as illegal immigration and the debate over supporting the federal funding of social programs -- can make an individual feel as far removed from the meaning of the Statue of Liberty as the immigrants sailing into New York City felt about their home countries. Still, it is hopeful to know that, on the 125th anniversary of the statue's arrival, some Americans still view it with awe.
To me, it represents generations. This is what everyone says, but my family came here with nothing, said Hector Rodriguez, a student in New York City who has joined the Occupy Wall Street protests. I'm going to school, and I guess I still believe in the whole American dream. That's why I'm out here.